How Japanese organic farmers are affected by the nuclear crisis, published in Aftonbladet on March 26th 2011

Photo caption: The Ministry of Agriculture claims the radioactivity will be washed away. But nobody knows whether that is true or not.

Photo caption: Elin Lindqvist eats from the farm.

Photo: Yoshi fukuda

“The threat is invisible”

Aftonbladet visits farms where radioactivity could be devastating – at any moment.

Suga is pregnant in the seventh month. She has cancelled her delivery appointment at the maternity clinic in Tokyo because she will be giving birth in Kansai instead – over 500 km South of Tokyo. The doctor recommended her to do this. The worries escalate amongst Tokyo’s pregnant women and mothers with young children because of heightened radiation alarms.

Yesterday, Tokyo government announced that the tap water is safe for infants to drink but the city continues to distribute waters to families with young children.

The concern is worrying for many mothers who cannot understand how the water may be safe one day and then unsafe the next. And there is more than the radioactive materials to be worried about – the daily aftershocks so clearly felt may lead to early birth.

Mother of young children Mika, 32, wonders if I can send water from Europe to her. She is staying with her in-laws in Kansai, the region around Osaka, partly because of the high radioactive materials in vegetables.

The shops also feel the consequences of their customers’ concerns. Hillside Pantry in the Daikanyama neighbourhood in Tokyo stopped buying vegetables from the affected areas the day before yesterday. The shop manager prefers at first not to answer my questions but she later sends a message:

“I felt sorry when you had gone. Our customers are so worried about the food these days.”

For farmers, these developments are serious. The Oohira family has farmed the earth outside Tokyo for 400 years. Miwako Oohira’s father received a medal from the emperor for his invention of a kind of greenhouse and her husband played an important role in the development of organic farming without chemicals in Japan. Miwako expresses a deep worry over the fact that what her family has built up now could be threatened by radioactive materials.

Her husband’s family comes from Ookuma, merely 10km from the nuclear plant in Fukushima. They have all been forced to leave their rice fields, and they do not know when they’ll be able to return. There is no plan for where they should go.

The Japanese government has announced that Tokyo Electrical Power Company, owner of the nuclear plant, has been asked to compensate the farmers in the Fukushima region, but nothing has been said about the farmers closer to Tokyo. Miwako Oohira collaborates with seven other small farms in places such as Fukushima, Chiba and Gunma, three areas where heightened radioactivity has been measured. They sell vegetables directly to 180 families and Miwako has asked each of her customers if they still want tomorrow’s delivery. None of her customers have wanted to cancel the vegetable basket this week.

–          But what about next week? Says Miwako.

It is unclear whether the Ministry of Agriculture will be measuring radioactivity of each farmer’s harvest, so Miwako waits and sees. She feels powerless.

–          I am worried about the children and the trees and the consequences that this crisis may have for our soil and our health, she says.

For the moment, the Ministry of Agriculture claims that the radioactivity will be washed away, but if that ends up not being the case, Miwako does not know what to do.

–          I have always thought that the natural is the best but now even nature is broken, says Miwako and smiles but there is a hint of sadness over her smile.

–          We Japanese have a collective responsibility because we accepted the nuclear energy, says Kiyahi Hatano who manages the farm.

–          We want to say that we are sorry to the rest of the word. We will rise again from the devastation of the earthquake and the tsunami, but if the radioactive materials increase there might be nothing we can do. We thought that the nuclear power was a clean source of energy, but now we know that it is not.

A few rain drops rest on the spinach leaves and we both see how a drop slowly falls down to the earth.

–          This threat is invisible, concludes Kiyashi, but it may infiltrate the soil and grow with the next crops.

The hint of sadness cannot be mistaken.

Elin Lindqvist


Photo caption: A hint of sadness has tainted the Japanese people.

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